I am afraid to put up a Pride display. That feels unprofessional to admit, but it’s true. I live and work in a very liberal area, and yet I am still afraid. From book bans to anti-trans bills to storytime protests, it is a very scary time to be under the LGBTQIA umbrella, an umbrella that feels paper thin against the onslaughts of contemporary hatred. This June, let us shine a light on books of queer joy. That joy can be so hard to keep alight on our own.
Why Queer Joy?
Once, in seventh grade, I was sitting in companionable closeness on the school bus with one of my best friends. A kid I did not know leaned over the seat behind us and called us a slur. I rocketed away from my friend, and for years afterwards, I build a wall between myself and any female friend, so that no one would call me something like that again. Reading books was part of how I slowly began to open up that part of my identity again, but it took nearly a decade. I didn’t know books with LGBTQIA characters existed until my late teens, and those books were often so dark. They were all about fear. Family rejection. Conversion therapy. AIDS.
It is absolutely important that we have books that reflect the real life experience of queer people, and that real life experience includes many negative, traumatic events. However, having only these negative depictions can lead to reading trauma, where vulnerable readers (especially readers of color) never see lives like theirs written about in a positive, hopeful light. We need therefore to be able to surround ourselves with literature about queer people living joyful lives. Diverse depictions, with characters of color, from different socio-economic classes, and with different abilities. It is incredibly difficult to imagine your own joyful future, if you have never seen someone like you living a full and happy life.
Queer Joy in Storytimes
It is an absolute delight that queer joy is now possible to find in picture books, something that was a downright struggle just fifteen years ago. Unfortunately, the majority of LGBTQIA picture books published still focus on white characters. There are rays of light, like Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessica Sima, which is mostly about accidentally joining a band of penguins when you wear your penguin suit too long. Also Adventures With My Daddies, written by Gareth Peter and illustrated by Garry Parsons, where a mixed race family with two dads frolic through a landscape of fantasy books. Pride Puppy, written by Robin Stevenson and illustrated by Julie McLaughlin, shows parade attendees with an array of skin colors, body types, and abilities, as well a playful, joyful story about a puppy romping across a pride parade. My Moms Love Me, written by Anna Membrino, and illustrated by Joy Hwang Ruiz, is a classically sweet snuggle. ALSC has more wonderful queer storytime recs here.
Queer Joy for Book Clubs and Book Talks
We are living in a golden age for queer middle grade. When I first started working in libraries about ten years ago, the only queer middle grade book I knew was Tim Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever. Now I don’t have enough time to read every middle grade book that comes out with an LGBTQIA character.
There are gay middle grade romances now, where the queer couples get to just be happy, like Ashley Herring Blake’s The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, and Jake Maia Arlow’s Almost Flying. And graphic novels absolutely hit it out of the park, from Kat Leyh’s Snapdragon to Kay O’Neill’s The Tea Dragon Society. These books are all a joy to share in a book club or a book talk, because they’re about warmth, adventure, and family.
Joy for the Future
I cannot make my fear go away. It lives with me, and perhaps it always will do. But one of the great joys of working with children is knowing that perhaps what I do today can help them feel less fear tomorrow.
Today’s blogger is Chelsey Roos. Chelsey has been a member of ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation committee, and is a Children’s Librarian for Santa Clara County Library. Book covers belong to their publishers, images were created in Canva by the author.
This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies I. Commitment to Client Group, and V. Collection Knowledge and Management